Tuesday, May 25, 2010

women of the Bible (2) Sarah - girl crushes and a petulant princess

Have you ever had a ‘girl crush’? You know, that admiring, platonic devotion women sometimes feel for other women. (The male version is, of course, the ‘boy crush’—most often expressed in adulation for preachers and thinkers like Don ‘The Don’ Carson or John Piper.) Perhaps you adore Elisabeth Elliot, that beloved missionary. Perhaps you revere Susannah Wesley—she of the apron and the many children. Perhaps you idolize one of those regal, older women—someone you know who radiates calmness, wisdom and humility.

Sarah, wife of Abraham, seems like an ideal candidate for a girl crush. Her very name means ‘princess’. Her beauty was legendary (Gen 12:11). Many women (I'm one of them!) have been inspired by the Bible's call to imitate her persevering faith and trusting submission (Heb 11:8-12, 1 Pet 3:1-7).

So when my Bible study group came to Sarah's story, I think we were all expecting something pretty special. But we were unimpressed.

Sarah is conniving, bossy and mean. She laughs sceptically at God's promises (Gen 18:10-15). Hoping to get a son through her maidservant Hagar, she leads her husband into polygamy, then blames him and treats Hagar with cruelty (Gen 16:1-6, 21:8-20). She's like a spoiled prima donna, throwing tantrums when things don't go her way.

You can understand her bitterness: she was 65 when she left a secure life in cosmopolitan Ur to became a nomad in answer to God's call to her husband (Gen 12:4-5). She was barren in an age when childlessness meant not just grief, but disgrace and destitution (Gen 16:1-2, 17:17, 18:12). The future of her family—the future of a promised nation—depended on her womb's fruitfulness. No wonder her faith wavered at times.

There are a few glimpses of light: she followed her husband faithfully on his wanderings; she submitted willingly to Abraham even when his doubtful leadership left her at the mercy of powerful princes (twice!—Gen 12:10-20, 20:1-17). When Isaac was born, her mocking laughter turned to joyous faith: “God has made laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh over me” (Gen 21:6).

The humbler members of our group were glad to find in Sarah a sinner just like us. The perfectionists like me were disappointed by her imperfections. But in the end, we were all encouraged by the story of this wayward heroine, for Sarah's faults shine the spotlight away from herself and onto God—

  • God, who brings about his purposes through sinners like us
  • God, whose timing is perfect, even when it feels like our hopes will never be realized (Gen 17:17-22)
  • God, who is unchanging and faithful through all our doubts and petulant disobedience
  • God, who is gracious and compassionate to the destitute (Gen 16:1-16 21:8-21)
  • God, whose own joy shines through the naming of Isaac, which means ‘laughter’ (Gen 17:19, 21:6-7)
  • God, who prizes even our faltering faith and obedience (Heb 11:8-12, 1 Pet 3:1-7)
  • God, who uses weak, sinful humans like Sarah to show that he is the hero of his own story.
I drove home from our study minus a girl crush, but with the addition of a heart singing praise to the God who was faithful to Sarah and who will be faithful to me. In the end, Sarah's story is not really about a woman at all; it's a story about God—his goodness, faithfulness and grace to people just like us.

This post first appeared in Sola Panel late last week.

first image is by artist Marc Chagall


Sarah said...

Oh yes, the girl crush. I've had many of those, particularly when I was single, I envied married women who appeared to have it all. I wonder sometimes if it's because we look to the next stage of our lives and seek a role model to emulate who is currently in that stage. I find it encouraging yet discouraging to know my female role models are sinners saved by grace, just like me.

I really enjoy your blog, Jean. I found my way here via a recommendation from Meredith from The Key to the Door. Keep writing!

Jean said...

Thanks, Sarah - and yes, I've had a few girl crushes too!! Like you, I'm both encouraged and discouraged by the fact that my role models are "sinners saved by grace". But what a relief that they are!! If they were truly perfect, how discouraging that would be! More hero worship (which would distract me from God anyway) but less help with my sins and failings.

I'm glad you enjoy the blog, and found your way here via Meredith, a dear bloggy friend of mine. :)